Justine Watalunga is an organic coffee farmer and the treasurer of one of 11 societies affiliated to Gumutindo Coffee Co-operative Enterprise Ltd. in Uganda.
Justine Watalunga, 49, is married with six children and also looks after four orphans. Justine previously served as a Board Member of the Gumutindo co-operative and now attends meetings there as an elected representative of her local society.
Justine is chair of a women’s group which built and runs an orphanage for AIDS orphans who live in the village. The group of women coffee farmers also run a nursery and primary school for 200 pupils which allows women to concentrate on their farms.
Justine’s day starts at 5am when she lets out her goats and cows and makes breakfast for her children. She makes the hour-long walk up the mountain to her coffee and banana farm where the morning is spent weeding, digging, pruning and collecting manure. After lunch she cuts grass to feed her livestock, spends time with her women’s group and checks on the orphanage. After making dinner for the family Justine feeds her cattle again and visits the local store if there’s time before resting at around 10pm. She is even busier at harvest time, working from dawn to dusk picking, pulping, sorting, washing and drying her coffee.
Justine’s organic coffee is used in Cafédirect instant coffee and in Equal Exchange’s Mt Elgon Gumutindo Ground Coffee, part of its range of ‘Coffee Grown by Women’.
Liberalisation of the Ugandan coffee industry in the 1990s led to the collapse of most of the co-operative unions. They had controlled the sector since the 1940s but lacked the business structures and market knowledge necessary to survive in the new competitive environment that brought many private traders into the market, all scrambling to purchase and export coffee.
Gumutindo, which means ‘excellent quality’ in the local language, was formed in 1998 as part of a joint project with UK fair trade organisation Twin Trading to supply high quality coffee to the specialty coffee market. Gumutindo was registered as a new co-operative union in 2003 and was Fairtrade certified the following year. In 2005 Gumutindo was able to take out a loan to purchase its own processing and warehouse premises in Mbale town and in 2012 installed hulling equipment so that it can now mill the coffee, ready for bagging and export.
Growing & Harvesting Coffee
Field staff train and supervise members in coffee production and harvesting. Quality is strictly monitored at all stages and a trained cupper working in the cupping laboratory evaluates the taste characteristics of the coffee to match customer requirements.
The coffee farms of Gumutindo members are located in the Mbale district of eastern Uganda on the lower slopes of Mount Elgon, Uganda’s highest mountain at 4,321 metres, which straddles the border with Kenya. The rich, fertile volcanic soil and subtropical climate are ideal for growing high quality arabica coffee. Farmers cultivate small farms of less than half a hectare at altitudes of 1,200 to 2,100 metres. Coffee is inter-cropped with staples such as cassava, beans, bananas, sweet potato and avocado grown for home consumption. Inter-cropping improves soil fertility, helps prevent soil erosion and provides shade for the coffee trees.
At harvest time, farmers pick the ripe red cherries from the coffee trees and carry out primary wet processing on the farm. Here, the cherries are soaked in water then fed through a hand-cranked pulping machine that removes the beans from the outer pulp which is added to compost heaps to use as fertiliser for the coffee trees.
Now covered in a sticky mucus layer, the beans are laid out on racks to dry in the sun. The resulting parchment coffee, so called because of its dry, paper-like protective covering, is then taken to the co-op’s coffee store before being delivered by truck to the Gumutindo warehouse for processing and storage. Grading and hand-sorting is followed by milling to remove the parchment layer – then the green coffee is packed in 60 kg bags and stored in the warehouse ready to be trucked to Mombasa port in Kenya for export.
Gumutindo is paid the Fairtrade Minimum Price of $1.70 a pound for organic Fairtrade coffee, or the market price if higher. It also receives the Fairtrade Premium of 20 cents a pound to invest in business improvements or community projects. As well as building long-term business partnerships, Fairtrade buyers are required to provide pre-finance which provides the capital for Gumutindo to purchase coffee from its members.
Across Gumutindo, the additional income from Fairtrade has paid for certification costs and training so that nearly all members have now been able to convert to certified organic production. In 2012 Gumutindo purchased expensive hulling equipment and installed it in the main warehouse – itself part-financed by the premium – allowing a big saving on contractors’ milling costs.
Each co-operative receives separate premium payments to invest in projects agreed on by their members. These projects include:
- Building and renovating coffee warehouses, offices and other premises.
- Part-funding a scheme to install electricity in village homes.
- Community projects: building a secondary school; providing schools with desks, clean water and toilets; extending a health clinic; replacing school and church roofs with iron roofing sheets; protecting natural water sources; constructing and repairing feeder roads.
- Providing working capital to reduce the need to take out expensive loans.
Gumutindo now operates as an independent farmer business controlling all activities from farm to export and has grown from 200 farmers in four co-operative societies to 7,000 farmers in 11 societies. Its members produce around 660 tonnes of organic Fairtrade coffee a year, almost all exported to the Fairtrade market. In addition, it has created more than 150 seasonal jobs for local women.